Tuesday, July 11, 2017

And the Greatest of These is Love

"From the beginning, God contrived ten thousand ways for implanting love within us"
St. John Chrysostom , Homilies on I Corinthians 13

Over the next few weeks, I and the staff of Camp Maccabee will be focusing on the theological virtue of love.  We focus on the virtues, both theological and cardinal, every year.  One year of the cycle, though, we focus exclusively on love.  Why?
We focus on love because there are fewer words so horribly misunderstood and misused as is the word love.  We use the word, in our culture, to denote a feeling about many things.  We use the word to express our like or affection for everything from a food to a sports team to a pet to a human being.  We use the word to express an affection for persons, places, concepts, and things.  We leave it to the context to see if we mean something different by 'love' depending about whom or what we are speaking.  

Let's be honest though.  More often than not, we are speaking of our affection for what something or someone offers us; how they make us feel.  This is a love that is mere emotion; a response to an outside stimulus. For as long as what is stimulating that feeling makes us happy, we keep it around.  When that stimulus either ceases to make me happy or causes me pain, we dismiss it.  It is why people run hot and then run cold in their affection for something.  We fall in and out of love with things and people.  Because it is an emotion based love, it is fickle by its nature.

Love, within the context of our faith, is an entirely different thing.  It transcends the emotions and settles in our will.  Love is a deliberate choice, a discipline, and a virtue.  Its directionality is wholly different from the world.  Where in this world the focus of love is what is done for me, in faith the focus is away from the self and towards another.  This is what the Greeks refer to as 'agape' or divine love.  The love God is has is  not directed at what we can do for Him.  Why?  Because there is nothing that we can give Him that He does not already does not have.  We can add nothing to Him.  However, because God's love is directed towards us it demands an in kind response.

This in kind love is difficult because it requires a heroic selflessness.  This kind of love, because it is a virtue,  puts the beloved first.  It seeks the good of the beloved even if in doing so , sacrifice and suffering are involved.  Jesus tells us, "No greater love  has one than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15:13)  To give the full measure of oneself is the kind of love Jesus Himself has and expects of His followers.  It is no surprise, then, that St. Paul, when giving us the attributes of love in I Corinthians 13:4-7, paints the picture a thoroughly selfless and heroic love.  These attributes become the watermarks by which we can determine my love for God and for others.  This goes back, again, to the fact that love is not an act of the emotions, but an act of the will.  It is choice made hundreds of times a day to move us to greater perfection as one who loves.

We focus on this in our camp because each one of the young men is called by God to a vocation.  Most will be called to marriage.  Some will be called to the priesthood or religious life.  All possess the same base.  A man that cannot love will fail at his vocation if he finds it at all.  What we hope to instill is an understanding that here and now they must cultivate love as they search God's will.

A man who cannot love will be an awful spouse and dad.  Even in courtship, he will see his girlfriend as a means to his own happiness.  Insofar as she keeps making him happy, she is useful to keep around.  This kind of selfishness will inevitably lead to sex outside of marriage, as the girlfriend owes him sexual pleasure without the benefit of the stability of marriage.  A man with imperfect love will also train his brain to this using of women through pornography.  I cannot understate the cancerous danger of pornography to warping a man's ability to fully love.  Furthermore, a man who does not properly love his spouse will not properly love his children.  Children will becomes accessories to make him look good.  More dangerous still, a man who will not properly love teaches his sons to do the same and his daughters to not expect it.  It becomes a multi-generational cancer.

A man who cannot love will be an awful priest.  Even in the seminary, he will judge the worth of serving God and His people by what he personally stands to gain. The idea of service will be warped beyond recognition into being a purveyor of goods and service to be given at an exacting price.  His prayer life, if it exists at all, will be functionary.  His homilies will always give him away though.  Homilies are a window into the preacher's soul.  His treatment of those placed in his care will resemble a dad who is faithless to his spouse and sees his children as useful only when they perform whatever duties he deems they should.  The abuse and neglect that are seen in a loveless spouse and dad will manifest itself in a loveless priest or cleric as well.

Because God and Holy Mother Church want better for our families and parishes, we teach the conscious discipline of love.  We teach it as the virtue it is.  We do not reduce it to a mere emotion.  Without the nobility and true heroism of love, we will continue to see the unraveling of the family unit and the plunging of priestly vocations.  

Because love is a theological virtue, it requires the grace of God to grow.  On our camp, we keep focused on the ultimate act of love: The Eucharist.  If a man is to be truly a man of love, then his eyes must be set on the very model of that love.  He must be a man unashamed of prayer.  He must be a man who sees in Christ the kind of selfless and courageous hero he himself is called to be.  We know from studies that when the dad is disengaged from faith, the likelihood of his children pursuing the faith is infinitesimally small.  We know that parishes rise and fall on the pastoral care afforded by their priests.  We know the lasting damage either spouses/dads and priests can do for generations.  We also know the heroic virtue they can instill for generations as well.

We need men to rise up beyond the shallowness of the emotion of love and grasp the greatness of the virtue of love.  We know that everything we bemoan in our society can be turned around, albeit with difficulty, but it can be turned around.  To be sure the culture will fight this as the culture has gone full throttle in emasculating men and keeping them on the level of a boy.  A man who truly loves is a force of nature that cannot be stilled by political correctness or cultural whims.  These are the giants we need to raise.  We need men who will not merely be good husbands, dads, or priests; we need stellar and courageous men who will fill these vocational roles given to them by God.    

Thursday, July 6, 2017

When Scandal Arises

This column is not written to excuse scandalous behavior nor to act as judge and jury on pending cases.  It is not a commentary on any particular incident and is not intended as such.

Over the past few days, a few stories on clergy being charged or arrested on behaving sinfully, in one case in a apartment in Rome and the other being a high ranking Vatican official, has made international news.   They are part of very long lists of either accusations or actual criminal and immoral behavior that have captured the headlines.  They are scandalous to be sure.  They do grave damage.  They hurt people for many years.  They can scorch faith and create doubt.  It is for no small reason that Jesus uses a graphic and horrific example of what would be preferable to giving scandal in Luke 17:2 where Jesus tells us it would be better to have a millstone placed around your neck and be throne into the sea than for one to give scandal.  That He had to say it 2000 years ago is telling.

Scandal is as old as the Church.  The apostles jostled for dominance.  They ran away.  One betrayed Jesus, another denied even knowing Him 3 times.  Quarrels erupted about doctrine, starting with circumcision and never really left.  False teachings and heresies, most of which were begun by clergy, have been with us from the very beginning.  Clergy acting cowardly during persecution, clergy having the sexual morality of a tapeworm, clergy in power struggles, clergy committing all sorts of evil have been with us the entirety of the Church.  There have been horrible bishops and even popes. The latest round of scandals are nothing new under the sun.

The biggest reason for this is that God chooses His clergy from human beings.  As much as we should certainly hope that our clergy would represent the best in modeling the Catholic life, more often than not, clerics prove to be all too human as well.  If history shows us anything within Church history, is that there has never been a golden age of honest and angelic clergy.  The concupiscence that weighs each of us down, afflicts the clergy as well.  The grace of Holy Orders does not make their humanity go away; concupiscence does not dissolve with ordination. Free will is a constant.  This is not to excuse any wrongdoing and sinful actions done by clergy and religious, but to state a simple fact.

Lest we lose hope, history shows us that great saints rise in the midst of even the most foul of circumstances.  That the Church has survived barrage after barrage of clergy behaving sinfully says something about the fact that ultimately God guides His Church and keeps it from collapsing under the weight of the sin of her members.  This said, what do we do when we are hit with scandal?  Scandal does and can ruin faith.  It can make it us abandon hope if left to fester.

As a cleric, it has been hard to witness the scandal given by my brother clergy.  Even if it is a small percentage of them, I am still all too acutely aware of the damage done.  I know like other professions, it only takes few to bring the whole into a bad reputation.  What keeps me from washing my hands of everything and walking away is the following:

1) It is God we serve first and foremost.  It is not a man or a group of men.  I know God can work through sinful men because that is what He has had do to for millennia.  When I go to Mass, it is to encounter the Lord in the Eucharist.  That is where I concentrate.  I don't buy into or want to create for myself a cult of personality.  We focus on Christ and His grace in the sacraments.

2) The Church is bigger than any of her members.  For all the sinfulness of her members, her teachings on faith and morals have remained consistent.  It is this to which I attach. While not all her members may speak the truth or even expound upon what the Church teaches, the teaching remain and are accessible for me to know.  I know that morality is not contingent upon the personality of the preacher or teacher.  Hence it is to what is laid out in the Scriptures and Magisterium of the Church that I focus.

3)No institution is reformed from the outside.  That people spiritually pick up their toys and leave only insures that sinful behavior remains and defines.  I love Christ and His Church too much to do this.  Complaining about a situation is not a solution.  It is getting one's skin in the game that matters.  By getting one's skin in the game, I don't mean the meaningless passivity of petitions.  I don't mean writing terse letters.  I mean that we find charitable ways to uphold the truth.  That is what St. Francis of Assisi did.  That is what St Charles Borromeo did.  That is is what St. Bernard of Clairvaux did.  I could go on with that list.  Not everyone pulled a Martin Luther and parted.

Some of this is a self inflicted wound.  When we saw the priesthood as beneath our best and brightest we starting setting up the game.  This sentiment is as old as the Church.  Many saints' stories are riddled with parents who sternly forbade their son or daughter from pursuing a call to serve God in the priesthood of religious life. When dioceses just started taking anybody because positions needed to be filled, it was because of a shortage of solid candidates.  Catholics wanted all the services to remain consistent, but didn't want to provide capable candidates for the work.  You want a better priest, raise a better young man who is open to serving God as a priest. You want a better clergy, raise strong virtuous men who will serve God wholeheartedly.  This is not to say that every man who went into the seminary was somehow a social reject.  Not at all.  Many have been good, solid, faithful, and holy men.  They don't get the press, but vthe toil in the fields of the Lord wondering if the reinforcements are coming.

Some of this comes  a result of priests forgetting what they promised. Sometimes we priests forget we are priests and not businessmen.  We can forget we are in the world but not of the world. We can get bogged down in compensatory behaviors and vices like anyone else.  We clergy need to remember that we are to be the Persona Christi and it does matter how we comport ourselves.  We need to remember that we live in the white hot spotlight and that the devil desperately wants us to fall.  When one of our brothers does fall, it does hurt.  All the more reason that our non-media garnering attention lives must shine brighter than those who fall.

I wish I could point to an idyllic time in our history where we got it right when it came the living of the faith.  It would give us a clue on what path to trod. There are none.  Looking for boogeyman to blame is an ahistorical fool's errand.  We persevere.  We must.  Each of us tussles with our own sinful inclinations and concupiscence everyday.  We need God's grace to this end.  That those who should know better don't do this cannot be reason for our own defection.  This doesn't mean we turn a blind eye to sinful behavior, it means we don't judge the totality by a minority...or even a majority.  Christ said He will be with us till end of the age.  We must look for the saints in our midst, among our clergy, as well.

As an end note I say this:  Too many times sinful behavior finds a fertile field when a priest has been put on a pedestal of has been forgotten.  For those on a pedestal, they can get an inkling the rules no longer apply to them (human nature there).  For those forgotten, they could look to behaviors and addictions to numb their loneliness (also human nature).   Many times, the cleric will cultivate their loneliness or pedestal.  Befriending him and offering him support can go a long way to helping have a healthy and holy priest.  Never turn a blind eye to behaviors that are sinful and damaging.  But do not treat him as an unconvicted felon in waiting either.

Pray for good men to become good priests.  We need them.  We always have.  We need men who will counter the poor and scandalous witness of the minority with the heroism of a saint. 


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Iron Sharpens Iron: Rethinking how Catholics Approach Each Other and the World

A couple weeks back, my principal wanted to talk about a situation at the school.  In essence, our upper grades were taking trash talk to new and really harmful levels.  It had gotten to the point that suspensions were about to be handed out.  I am not talking about the thinned skinned snowflake like tolerance levels that need to be coddled, no, what was being said was just sinful and needed to stop. Certainly, trash talk and worse is a common staple in today's world.  I remember the 'yo mamma' jokes which were fairly cruel.  The trash talk always seemed to escalate.  Favored targets emerged.  It was a lot of time, energy, and mental creativity misused.  It so happened that someone posted the Into the Breech Video from the Diocese of Phoenix (excellent by the way) in which men were called to become the men God has created them to be.  In that video it quoted  Proverbs 27:17, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man does to another."  It stuck in my craw.  It dominated my prayer.  That's when it hit me.

Our school could have handed out punishments which may or may not solve the problem.  Being a realist, it would have driven the behavior underground.  Kids are going to be kids.  We decided a different tact.  We wanted them to take all the energy and time they spent on tearing each other down and redirect that energy and time to building each other up.  They have become keen on identifying each others weaknesses and faults.  We wanted them to use that energy and intelligence to identify each others strengths and gifts.  Furthermore, in the vein that iron does sharpen iron, we want them to not overlook sin, but to know how to call a person to something better than sin.

The school is a beginning.  I expect the same of myself and my parish.  Make no excuse for sin, make every effort to use the grace of God to build up and strengthen.  Think about it.  Wouldn't you want to belong to a parish where our identified goal is to bring out the best in each other and train people how to bring out the best in each other? Wouldn't you want to be part of a group that expected greatness from you and you could expect greatness from? Wouldn't you want a church that is an oasis in the unrelenting negativity, fault finding, gossip mongering, and character assassination that is today's modern culture, entertainment, and politics?  Wouldn't you want to belong to a parish where we understood beyond the shadow of a doubt that to follow and worship God means looking different than the world? Don't be mistaken, I am not talking utopia...I am talking Navy Seal training.  I am not saying quit engaging this world, but engage it in a radically different way.

Is this not the standard Jesus sets in the Gospel?  Does the unity that Jesus prays for on the night before His death, a unity sealed in His own Body and Blood, not come from the members of that Body strengthening each other?  Do we not receive the Body and Blood of Christ so as to become one?  Does unity come from tearing each other down?  Does it come from viewing each other as the enemy or competition? NO, it comes from us utilizing the grace of God to bolster the strengths and address the weaknesses.

We who claim to follow Christ are called to be as different from the secular world, a world quickly repaganizing,  as light is different from darkness.  We cannot be a light to the world if we look like the world.  Make no mistake, there is NO ROOM for sin, no room for gossip, no room for rivalries, no room for ignoring sin, no room for tearing down our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The devil delights in our rivalries and open warfare!  Every time some one makes a snarky remark about different Mass Rituals (legit ones), every time one sees fit to bypass the levels of fraternal correction given in Scripture and turninto a ecclesial TMZ, every time we openly ridicule instead of seeking to call out better...we have to ask ourselves how much different is our actions from a bunch of grade schoolers trash talking?  Do we imagine for a moment that Jesus will not call us to task for ripping apart what He set in His Body and Blood? Yes, there are abuses happening during Masses and they must be addressed.  That said, does calling for better out of the individuals accomplish that end or will ridiculing them?  Is our end to make ourselves feel superior at the cost of running others down?  Perhaps a Catholic should have a higher modus operendi than a thug!

I am excited to see how this goes.  I pray for a significant transformation in my school and parish.  Don't get me wrong, they are great places now, but as a pastor, I should always be aiming for better.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Why both Married Men and Celibate Priests are Important

The Roman Catholic Priesthood is in the news again.  That is usually not a good thing.  It seems the only time Catholic priests get in the news is when a priest sins, is killed, or when discussion about changing celibacy arise.  The secular world hates the priesthood.    Yes, there are many priests who give ample ammunition to these entities in their disparagement.   There is nothing new in this.  Clergy have been a great source of scandal from the very beginning.  The scandal comes from their unwillingness to live up to the witness that the priesthood is supposed to give: the witness of a man completely configured to the Kingdom of God... a man whose very life points beyond this world.

Essential Witnesses: the Married
Both the married life and priesthood give witness to the Kingdom of God.  They do so in distinct and necessary ways.  In marriage, the husband and wife model the union of the Trinity and the union of Christ with His Church.  They model the life creating love that flows from the Trinity.  They model in their families a microcosm of the Body of Christ, the Church.  The witness of a faith infused marriage and the union it represents is a witness is indispensable in this age of free love (which is nothing more than slavery to lust) and disposable and willfully sterile relationships.  The married man's vocation is first and foremost as husband and father.  While it takes tremendous self-control, self-discipline, and sacrifice, being a husband and father is not a job, but a calling...a vocation. A married man's first priority is always his wife and children.  When that first priority becomes a career, an entertainment, or anything other than his family, the marriage suffers for it.

Our culture thinks little of the married life.  It has so twisted the idea of marriage and family that the bond represents little more than an emotional entanglement that is to be enjoyed until it quits being enjoyable.  That a marriage would reflect the life giving bond of the Trinity is deemed impossible and  replaced with a bond racked with the poisons of artificial birth control, cohabitation, abortion,  same sex marriage and really anything that would render this life giving bond sterile and godless.  For the secular world, marriage is little more than a having a life buddy to do stuff with when one is free from the primary concerns of making money and self pleasure. The dignity of marriage should be so diluted as to not see its specific witness and calling.  To the contrary, when Catholics marry, it should point beyond just themselves.  This is why matrimony is a sacrament; such a witness is hard enough with the sacramental grace of God, much harder to impossible without it.

Essential Witnesses: the Celibate

As much as our culture hates the married life, it hates the priesthood more.  Why? It finds the idea of celibacy loathsome.   That a human being should possess the ability to have complete mastery over their sexual impulses stands in complete contradiction to the endless torrent of sexual licentiousness that makes up the overwhelming majority of modern entertainment and morality.  The truly celibate man is a radical witness to the Kingdom of God.  In Mark12:25 Jesus points out that in the Kingdom to come,  that men and women neither marry nor are given in marriage. This is not because there is something wrong with marriage, but the witness is no longer necessary when the absolute union in the Kingdom of Heaven is now the lived reality.  The celibate priest lives in such a way so as to point to this reality of the Kingdom of God.

The world sees no worth in this witness, in fact, it sees this witness as dangerous.  Why is it the media delights in the sexual sin of a priest that it really doesn't in any other group?  For the same reason that a priest giving in to sexual misconduct does such harm...it is a scandal that undermines the powerful witness.  The world wants to say that chastity and celibacy are impossible.  The world believes that man is just another animal who can be manipulated because they operate only on instinct.  A chaste and celibate person stands as a warrior that frightens the devil and his minions.

The Catholic priesthood is supposed to be a bold witness of self-sacrifice and holiness to a world in desperate need of such witness.  The Catholic priest is to give of himself to God and the portion of the flock assigned him every bit as totally as a husband and father is to give of himself to his wife and family.  The base of both husband and priest is the same; the same virtue, the same strength, the same selflessness and willingness to sacrifice are absolute necessities in both. If this is the case, why should a man not be able to do both?  This question is currently being bandied about.

My own worry about the mingling of these two goods is how does one man give himself completely to two vocations. Is his first priority his family (which marriage requires) or his parish (which priesthood requires).  Will not suffer to the good of the other?  Many will say that protestant, some Orthodox and Eastern Catholic clergy do.  My response is that what is expected of these clergy and what is expected of catholic priests are wildly different.  The danger becomes reducing a vocation to a job.  No more than a married man treats his wife and family as a job does a priest treat his duties to God and His people as a job.  Celibacy frees the priest to give himself completely to God and His people.  In I Corinthians 7, St Paul makes the case that a married man is concerned ( and should be) about his wife...  the celibate man or woman can give themselves over to the service of God completely.

Not Looking for the Easy Way Out

We are indeed in a vocation crisis and shortage.  In crisis, there is tendency to panic and look for fixes that lower the standards.  The idea of a simplex priest is such a panic move.  A simplex priest is ordained to provide sacraments.  That we would want greater access to the sacraments is a good thing.  Indeed in times when the Church is driven underground by persecution, such an answer might be needed.  But when the shortage comes as a result of rebellion against God's will, we are writing a prescription for going further down the rabbit hole.  Make no mistake, at the heart of the vocation crisis is a wholesale rebellion against the witness of celibacy.  When I fought against the idea of priesthood, it was because I wanted to get married...and not for the most noble of interest.  Marriage represented the idea of having a woman who I could legally and morally have sex with.  That I would have to control my sexuality for the rest of my life was far too difficult to endure.  I was falling for the lies of our culture.

Priests aren't just needed because we need people to give sacraments and run parishes.  Priests are needed, and I mean GOOD HOLY priests are needed because the witness that celibacy provides is needed so desperately in this world.  In a culture that truly is godless and believes that all there is is in the here and now, that a man would fly in the face of this and live in such a way as to point to the Kingdom of God and the union that awaits for us is bold and brave.  This witness is not unneeded and disposable.

Forging Forward in Witness
Each man is called to give witness.  The witness of marriage and priesthood are desperately needed...both of them, in their distinct ways.  This is not disparage priests who are married...not at all.  But when we change the standards , we change the outcome.  This can very dangerous.  Yes, allowing priests to marry, or trying simplex priests might provide temporary relief.  But at what cost?  We cannot see the witness of celibacy and its total self giving it shows die.  It needs to be greater, not lesser.  When man wants to compromise away a standard, it is never to our good.

The culture wants us to move away from this great witness which is probably why we need to move  more strongly to it.  Young men should know the heroic witness they can give if God calls them to priesthood.  While celibacy is one component of priesthood, it is the one under attack right now.  Let us pray that this witness of celibacy grow and grow powerfully.  Priesthood is not a job of manufacturing holy stuff, but  a call to offer oneself completely to the God and His people is the heart of priesthood...it is not a job or career...but a vocation.  Pray that our rebellion against this witness dies and we boldly advance to show the world something beyond itself.  For married men that is to model union and life giving love.  For the priest, it is to give completely to God and His people. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Catholic Man, the Catholic Priest as Priest

Every Catholic man is to have as a primary role model Jesus Christ.  Our lives are to be modeled on His strength, courage, self-sacrifice, wisdom, and love.   Do we men get that?  In a world where we model our lives after mere men, even good men we admire like our dads, their and our primary role model is to be Jesus Christ.

I would suppose that the desire to do this would be greatly affected by the image of Jesus we grew up with.   But not all the images are true, in fact, some are demonically false.  The dominant one presented in this culture is a image I call "Jesus the wuss."  This Jesus is one part care bear, one part guru, and about as emasculated as a man can get and still be a male of the species.  He seems to be a bit part actor in a Shakespearean tragedy; a nice guy who dies a tragic death in the overall play of life.    This Jesus makes suggestions for life, almost in an apologetic tone.  But, were we to actually study the Jesus of the New Testament, we get a different picture. 

The Truth of the Matter
The Jesus of the New Testament spoke a Gospel that was so dangerous and revolutionary that it upended everything.  His clarion call flew in face of the Roman Empire, the Sanhedrin, the religious authorities so much so that they wanted Him dead.  This was a man who spoke forcefully, pointedly, and firmly.  While He showed great kindness and mercy, He did not back away from a fight.  He didn't care what His image was or what people thought of Him, He came to preach a Gospel.  He sealed this Gospel willingly in His own Blood.  He went to Jerusalem knowing full well that not just death lay ahead, but an excruciating painful and violent death lay ahead. It is in those last days of His life on earth that He shows Himself to be the great and eternal High Priest.  All priesthood flows from His priesthood. 

From the Last Supper through the Crucifixion Jesus makes a new sacrifice and sets a new covenant.  He is the priest that offers up that sacrifice, he is the slain victim in that sacrifice, and in both He intercedes before the Father for us, the beneficiaries of this sacrifice.  Read that line again.  In this we have encapsulated the type of priests we Catholic men are called to be.  It is this steely eyed, full throated,  wise, and strong priest we are called to be.

I speak directly to married men and priests.  Each in our own way, by virtue of our baptism (and for priests, Holy Orders) are called to share in the priestly role of Jesus Christ.  With our anointing (s) with Sacred Chrism, we are are charged with a share in the priestly role of Jesus Christ.  Day in and and day out ,we are called to offer sacrifice for the good of those placed in our care.

The Sacrifice and the One Who Makes it
Married man, YOU are called to be the spiritual head of your home.  Your wife has duties as well, but you bear the responsibility before God for being the priest of the family.  You exhibit that priesthood by the sacrifice of your time and energy for the good of your family.  Their care and protection, their growing in God's  grace and Gospel is your responsibility.  Some of this you share with your wife, but you are the one called to be the priest who guides and sacrifices within your home.  However, you cannot be a priest on your own, independent of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, given through the Eucharist.  Your priesthood should lead you and your family into the Eucharistic celebration every Sunday!  If your priesthood does not, then you are misleading the portion of the flock entrusted by God to you!

My brother priests, in a even more powerful way, we make present that sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, through the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Mass.  We make the effects of that sacrifice also present through Confession and Anointing of the Sick.  On top of this, like dads and husbands, we too offer up ourselves...our energy, our time, our resources...as a sacrifice as well.  We add to this sacrifice, the sacrifice brought by celibacy, as a way of pointing toward the Kingdom of God.  We pastors are not businessmen selling holy stuff, but men who are to model for the men and boys of our parishes what being a priest of Jesus Christ means.  Our parishioners have a right and need to see in us the fullness of the life and teaching of Jesus Christ and His Church.

When we Catholic men neglect or belittle this sacred duty, it is not merely to the detriment of ourselves, but we poison or starve the flock assigned to us.  Can we imagine the Good Shepherd will take this neglect or abuse lightly?  Something about millstones and being thrown into the sea is coming to mind. 

The Intercessor

Brothers, we don't offer sacrifice for the sake of offering sacrifice; sacrifice has an end in mind.  Christ did offer His life on the Cross just for the sake of a violent death and good example.  No, He offers Himself for our good!  He offers Himself as the Prime intercessor before the Father.  Likewise, what we offer is not a going through the motions, or a lifeless and embittered action.  No, when we offer ourselves up, it is for the good of those who God has placed in our care.  Without intercession, we leave our flocks primed for the predators.  Our actions without God's help will always fall short.

The devil greatly appreciates a neglectful priest.  The devil loves a self-absorbed priest.  The devil great appreciates a husband who doesn't pray for his wife, a dad who doesn't pray for his children, a pastor who doesn't pray for his parish.  These men might believe that are being alert and diligent, but without asking for God's will and protection, they bring a knife to a spiritual thermonuclear war. If prayer is not a part of our lives (and my brother priests, that is not just limited to Divine Office and Mass), we lower our guard and both we and our flocks suffer.  The devil has done well in this society to convince men that religion and prayer are for the women and kids.  It is much easier to strike the shepherd and scatter the flock when the shepherd drops his guard.

Men, central to our core identity is that role of protector; we cannot do this without attaching our identity to the identity of Christ the Eternal High Priest. We can shy away like cowards from our role  before God to lead and intercede for our flocks.  We must lay aside the lies that make us believe that this role is not manly.  True manliness is not measured in muscles, money, and power.  True manliness is in resolve, courage, strength , and determination to follow in the steps of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This is no easy thing, as those foot prints are bloodied by the sacrifice that is necessary.

I believe deeply that the destruction of the family and the priestly vocation crisis is laid at our feet.  To many of us modeled our call as husbands, dads, and priests on a identity other than Jesus Christ.  The Good News is, though, that we can depart from such a false identity and convert to the truth.  Now is the time, men!  Now is the time to reconfigure our identities away from this world and towards Christ the High Priest!  For it is not the world that will judge us in the end...it will be Christ, the Eternal High Priest!  What kind of priest will He find in us?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Forging Forward in Hope: Lent 2017

Ah Lent!  For some a trial of spiritual masochism in which we make ourselves miserable for 40 days; a time of parting ourselves temporarily from worldly excess.  It becomes more a trip of spiritual Darwinism where only the most spiritually fit survive.  Hand us our  flagellum and let the beating commence!  If this is your view of Lent, I have only two words for you: STOP IT!!!! 

Lent is a time of purification in preparation for the Season of Easter.  It's 40 days, beginning Ash Wednesday, stretch like Jesus' 40 days in the desert or Israel's 40 days in the desert.  For Israel, their 40 years were a time a purification from their faithlessness and fear.  For Jesus, His 40 days were a time of preparation for His entering into His public ministry of the proclamation of the Gospel, with its climax in the crucifixion and resurrection.  Our 40 days are both, a time of purification and preparation.  The tools of Lent tell us much about the reason for the season.

Ashes, Ashes, We all Fall Down

The season begins with Ash Wednesday.  The ashes are made from the palms of the prior year's Palm Sunday.  The use of ashes remind of the old Latin phrase, "Sic transit gloria mundi."  Thus passes the glory of the world.  From 1409 to 1963 these words were used in the installation of a new pope, to remind Him all the glory he sees on display is temporary; his ministry is to point to the higher.  The ashes remind us that all we see, even our very bodies, will be ash one day.  What a woeful thing to connect our hopes to future ash!  Lent calls us to attach ourselves to the eternal.

The readings of the Mass remind us to 'rend our hearts, not our garments (Joel 2:13) and remind us of the tripod of Lent in the Gospel: fasting, praying, and alms-giving,  Each Lent begins with  a like theme to Advent: preparing the way of the Lord  in our hearts.  These actions have a purpose that are not meant to be hoops to jump through for 40 days, they are to set us on a path for victory.  What have fasting, abstinence, and alms-giving to do with victory?  What have they to do with preparation for Easter?  I am glad you asked?

Detachment 101

If we are to move from a fixation on the temporal and move to a gaze fixed on the eternal, then a change in direction will be required.  While we live, we are surrounded by temporal.  Everything we know can be sensed.  It is easy to get fixed on these things.  Furthermore, when we live in a society where the accrual of earthly goods is the primary goal, where the sating of our passions and appetites is dominant, we can be enslaved to the temporal order.  We become enslaved to ash.  Lent bids us to take a chisel and hammer to our chains.  This comes in the form of a focus on the cardinal virtue of temperance.

The idea of giving something up for Lent, also known as abstinence, is about flexing some temperance muscle.  Oftentimes we will give up something for Lent in order to temper our addiction to a worldly thing: candy, TV, social media, and so on.  Abstinence misunderstood becomes cyclical; namely that we go through the hard work of breaking our chains only to reforge them again once the Easter season arrives.  Somehow, "Alleluia, Christ is Risen" and "Woohoo, let's go back to my enslavement" are not terribly coherent.  In utilizing the virtue of  temperance, we seek to be free of needing what we gave up.  Truth be told, our lives will function just fine without what we gave up.  IN fact, if we are honest, our lives fare better.

Lent is supposed to further growth away from the temporal and towards the eternal, not be a yo yo between the two planes.    Fasting, furthers this theme of detachment, reminding ourselves that our appetites can be contained, our passions can be held in check, and we can do so with great joy and grace.  Mortification, a word long banished from the modern lexicon because why we would do something purposely to make ourselves miserable.  Mortifications are actions that point us to a greater good.  If we are in a bad place of enslavement, then mortifications will make us miserable for a bit.  Mortification, while not called by this word, is more common than you think.

Mortification can come on that hot humid summer day running drills at football practice.  It i done not to make the player miserable, but to teach essential skills if one wishes to be victorious. Mortification comes in the form of the training of soldiers, especially of special forces, in which their bodies and minds are pushed to their limits so as to achieve an excellence.  Mortification comes in the form of the student who studies instead of going out with friends, done to achieve an excellence in education and academics. Mortification comes in form a weigh lifters challenging himself, a dancer doing the same steps over and over and over again, or anyone else pursuing excellence in a field.  Surely, if we will do this for things that pass to as, all the more we should be doing it for the eternal!

Dropping the Mirror

The next leg in the tripod is alms-giving.  In redirecting our focus away from the enslavement to the things of this world, our eyes are opened to that which eternal.  The eternal is soaked in self-giving love.  Being freed of enslavement, we drop our mirrors and see the world as a place in which to love persons and not things.  Self-giving love is never a static thing.  It seeks to reach and give.  To this end, the Scriptures talk about alms-giving.  It means to give of our resources for the good of others.  With our vision being cleared, we find there is much out there in need of our intervention.  Not consumed by our wants, we clearly see another person's needs.

Alms-giving is the natural sibling of detachment.  In our changing direction and focus, we now look to the good of others as we believe God looks to our good.  Alms-giving shows a thankfulness to God and recognition of His goodness in our lives.  When we joyfully give to the needs of others, we show ourselves to be children of our Father.  Remember, God is never to be outdone in generosity!

Knowing our Source

 Let's be honest though.  This IS hard.  If detachment and alms giving, everyone would be doing it.  But many do not, because it is hard.  The third leg of the tripod is prayer.  It is a desire to grow closer to God through being more intentional in our prayer and spending added time in prayer.   All the good works in the world will not usher into heaven.  No, a relationship with God does and that relationship can not be ignored.

Be mindful, that while prayer is not merely flinging words at God, or sitting in a place where people happen to be praying, prayer is willful engagement of our will directed toward God.  Our prayer must be humble and honest...not to ourselves...but to God.  The prayer of a person seeking God's help to change to the positive would require a confession of failing to do so, an acknowledgment of the chains of habitual sin, and a desire to be free of these chains once and for all.

As Catholics, we are given this grace in the most concrete form through the sacraments, particularly in the two we can do many times over: Eucharist and Confession.Through the Scriptures, the sacraments, and the Church, God makes it clear He wants a place in our lives every day.  Hence studying the Scriptures, praying, engaging in the sacraments, and actively ridding ourselves of the chains of enslavement show God we want a daily place in His life.

The end goal of Lent, in its purification and preparation, is to forge forward in hope, setting a trajectory towards eternal life. The goal is 40 days of misery with a recapitulation to  the sin we were tempering; but to walk out of Lent and into Easter a free person purged of needless weight.  The prayer. alms-giving, and detachment are not temporary, but life long companions that draw us closer to God and into eternal life...the life of the Resurrection.  So, chin up, shoulder up, and march on and away from what you hope to leave behind on Ash Wednesday! 

The Catholic Man, The Catholic Priest as Prophet

Prophet.  The etymological root of the word 'prophet', comes from the Greek 'prophetes', which means 'spokesman'.  The prophet spoke not his own words, but the words of he who sent him.  In the Old Testament and with St John the Baptist, the prophets were spokesmen for God.  Through these prophets, God sent words of comfort and warning, words of destruction and rebirth.  Through the prophets, the Messiah was foretold and pointed towards.  They made known the word of God regardless of the risk.

When we baptized, we were given a share in the prophetic role of Jesus Christ and His Church through our anointing with Sacred Chrism.  If we were baptized as infants, the ephphatha prayer (Greek for 'Be opened') was said over us as our lips and ears were touched, praying that our ears would be open His word and our mouth loosed to proclaim His word.To be a prophet though requires two things:

1) To be a prophet means we must have a relationship with Christ.  We cannot be the spokesman for someone we do not know.  Men, for far too long, have seen a relationship with Jesus as something not manly.  We have bought into a secular lie that such things (which we dismissively call 'religion') are the thing of women and young children.  Nothing so stills the prophetic tongue as a man who buys this weasel bit of deceit.  How can we be the spiritual head of our home without owning the prophetic role?  How can we be prophets when our relationship is far less than what it should be with God?  For us as men, this means we pray, we engage in the cultivation of virtue by which we are loosened from the deceit of this world.

2) To be a prophet means we must have a relationship with Christ's Body, the Church.  As Catholics we are not free agents.  We belong to a Body of Christ much larger than ourselves and are given the role of a shepherd when we step into the role of our vocation.  To have a relationship with Christ's Body means that we seek knowledge of what that Body teaches and stands for.  Otherwise, our tongues are reduced to compromising and deceitful babble.   The true prophet must have a relationship with the truth.

Furthermore, a man who wishes to live up to the challenge of being a prophet must make regular use of the sacraments.  A man who stays away from the Eucharist will be a prophet starved of grace who will fall into deceit and become a false prophet.  A man who stays away from the sacrament of Confession will be a man whose humility is so crushed that lacking self reflection and its attendant honesty, he will not be able to distinguish between truth and deceit.  His prophetic message will become and amalgamation of worldly wisdom with a Catholic facade...a very thin facade.   The prophet who severs himself from the company of Christ and His Church still remains a prophet, only he now becomes a false prophet.

The signs that a man is falling short of his prophetic role as a catholic man:

A) He is vain.  The vain man, the man who is worried about the way he is perceived, will still the prophet's tongue quickly.  The man who worries about appearances will retreat quickly; he will be driven by the prevailing winds of society.  The vain man has his reputation as his god.  Any teaching of the faith that is unpopular he will restrain from saying as he is more worried about how is perceived and the consequences following.

B) He is afraid.  Vanity births fear. Those who have reputation as a god, have an insatiable god who demands much lest his gifts be quickly taken away.  The vain man will allow fear to still his tongue to unpopular truth.  I have heard many times how a cleric stayed away from preaching unpopular because he would see a drop in his collection.  The slightest prick of even the likelihood of persecution will deter him away from being a true prophet.

C) He delegates away his responsibility.   How many men have delegated away being spiritual head of their home to their wives?  How many are content with her being the primary teacher while they do their own thing?  How many clerics delegate away key components of the prophetic office to a myriad of others while taking the one moment they cannot readily forfeit, the homily, and filling with insignificant fluff?  Despite the fact that in many places the cleric has actually had graduate level training in theology, he can barely bring himself to step into any teaching role, has no knowledge of what his delegates are teaching, and is safely ensconced in his lair where he can be Fr. Nice.  It is a safe place that protects the reputation he wants.  How many men are quite satisfied with allowing their wives go to things such as classes, prayer, retreats and anything else that bolsters their role so that the wife and not her husband can be built up in their identity?  In delegating away his responsibility, the Catholic man and priest shows he is ruled by fear.

Brothers, we cannot let these things rule us.  Our society grows darker and darker as we sit silent. The truth is, we are either pursuing darkness or light.  The devil owns the fence on which so many of us sit. A true man doesn't take the attitude of let the truth be damned, but takes the attitude of let the darkness be damned!  He stands like a warrior and professes the light.  His tongue is not silenced by the deceit of our secular world.  His manliness is not contingent upon his reputation.  His identity is not determined by worldly wisdom.

You can be very sure that speaking the truth will bring persecution.  It will be unpopular.  It always has been.  Every prophet knows that his words will comfort some and infuriate others, depending of what god they serve.  But the true Catholic man and Catholic priest is no coward.  He does what is necessary to be the prophet God has created and baptized him to be. He bears willingly, as did Jesus his own cross, what will come with being a prophet to the truth.  He is the St Thomas More,  the St Maximilian Kolbe,  the St John Paul II, the Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the man who stands up to the mightiest of tyrants and even into the face of the King of Tyrants, the devil himself, with an stern jaw, a steely look,  and a  determined stance and says, "You have no power to bring me to cower in fear, I will proclaim the truth!"

Brothers, let us take on the mantle of the prophet we were baptized into so that in our homes and churches we model for the young men and boys  placed in our care how to be the fearless and faithful prophet we are called to be!